In The New Inquiry, Kurt Newman reviews Steven Shaviro’s The Universe of Things: On Speculative Realism.
The Universe of Things also attends concertedly to the work of Graham Harman. In particular, Shaviro shines a light on the usefulness of Harman’s Heideggerian insight that the image of the “broken tool” grants us access to the inner world of objects. “When a tool, or a thing, fails to function as expected,” Shaviro writes, “the excess of its being is suddenly revealed to us.”
What is this “excess of being?” It might be easiest to think of it as a mathematical remainder. The “excess of being” is what is left after we subtract things from themselves. In the aftermath of the many revolutions of modern physics, we know that if you take, say, a chair, and subtract from the universe that chair, you are not left with nothing. The “something” that is left over—however resistant it is to analysis—is the “excess of being.” A scientist would likely tell us that the “something” merely alerts us to a problem with the way we have framed the question. A psychoanalyst might situate this remainder at the level of fantasy or invoke the language of object relations. A deconstructionist might point to the “hauntological” traces of the chair and its ghostly afterlives.